The teams: The Green Bay Packers (1-1) vs. the Seattle Seahawks (2-0).
The time: 7 p.m. CDT Friday.
The place: Lambeau Field, Green Bay.
The TV coverage: CBS –WDJT (Ch. 58) in Milwaukee, WFRV (Ch. 5) in Green Bay and WISC (Ch. 3) in Madison.
The announcers: Ian Eagle and Phil Simms, with Tracy Wolfson reporting from the sidelines.
The Packers injury report: Wide receiver Charles Johnson (knee), wide receiver Randall Cobb (biceps), cornerback Loyce Means (ankle) and outside linebacker Andy Mulumba (knee) are questionable. Defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) is doubtful. Cornerback James Nixon (ankle/knee); safety Sean Richardson (neck); cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring); cornerback Tramon Williams (knee); offensive lineman JC Tretter (ankle); left tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee); offensive tackle Derek Sherrod (leg); tight end Matthew Mulligan (elbow); wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee); and defensive end Jerel Worthy (knee) are out.
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
Understudies galore?: Of all the meaningless preseason games the NFL plays every year, traditionally the third one for each team is the least meaningless. The starters often play into the second half, the offensive and defensive coordinators try to use a bit more of their schemes while not putting too much on tape for the early regular-season opponents, and the game serves as a barometer for the players who’ll actually be playing once the games start to count.
That might not be the case this time around for the Packers, though, according to coach Mike McCarthy. With a shortened work week and uncertainty reigning at a number of positions, McCarthy and GM Ted Thompson may sacrifice some of the starters reps for evaluation of roster hopefuls.
“The fact of the matter is the third game usually came on a seven-day week (and) was your dress rehearsal type game. I know from my standpoint, I can’t speak for anybody else in the league, with this new CBA schedule, I don’t know if that’s really realistic in today’s schedule,” McCarthy said. “We have to create opportunities. We need more information about the players on our roster, so the fact that this will be a dress rehearsal, play this game like a real, that’s not as true as it was probably three or four years ago. It’s important that we get enough reps on guys and continue to try to figure this thing out.”
Tight end troubles: Jermichael Finley is the Packers’ starting tight end. And that’s about all that can be said definitively about the position right now.
With Andrew Quarless (quadriceps) and Ryan Taylor (knee) yet to play in a game, D.J. Williams up-and-down, Brandon Bostick still raw and undersized offensive lineman Matthew Mulligan now sidelined with an elbow injury, the team that proudly carried five tight ends on the 53-man roster in recent years isn’t exactly set at the position.
“I’d say that these next two games are going to be vital,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “As much playing time as we can get these guys, as much information as we can get on each and every one of them, that’s what we need to do.”
Roll out the Harrell: Incumbent backup quarterback Graham Harrell has raised his game since the arrival of Vince Young, but has he raised it enough? He’ll get two more chances to prove himself to a coaching staff that seems enamored with the idea of getting its hands on Young, even at age 30. McCarthy, clearly likes Young’s experience and athleticism, but he’s light-years behind Harrell in the playbook. Maybe that won’t matter and the team will roll the dice that it can develop Young without having to play him because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ durability.
But if they want to play it safe, the Packers will need to see two more solid showings from Harrell, who made two glaring errors in the opener against Arizona but was on target in St. Louis last Saturday night. Even though he was statistically pedestrian (5 of 10, 44 yards), he didn’t get much help from his receivers (two drops, including one by Williams on what would’ve been a 30-yard gain.
“His completion percentage wasn’t great the last game, but his ball location was. He put the ball where he needed to put the ball, and he had a throw-away,” quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “So 9 out of 10, the ball location was pretty dang good. With that being said, we want production. This game, just like any other game, and really as the backup just like any time you go under center or in the gun, it’s information and it’s important. You’ve got to be ready to go at any time, and you have to be able to perform your highest on a limited amount of reps, so every outing is important.”
Ross’ crossroads: Despite his infamous fumble in the playoff loss at San Francisco, Jeremy Ross came into camp looking like a player who belonged on the 53-man roster. His return ability, coupled with intriguing potential as a receiver, had appeal. Even over the first two weeks of camp, despite an occasional drop, he seemed to be in a good place. But over the last two weeks, he’s hurt his cause. He was involved in Harrell’s interception against Arizona, and his drops in practice are too frequent. With rookie cornerback Micah Hyde emerging as a possible punt returner and several kickoff return candidates, Ross needs to step up and seize a roster spot.
“Inconsistent,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett replied when asked about Ross. “He did some good things early in camp and he’ll do some good things (every day). But the No. 1 thing is being consistent – doing it all the time, being disciplined and doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it. Bottom line. (He is) talented, but again, we have to be consistent. And he understands that and knows that.”
Safety first: One competition that the Packers feel no pressure to settle is at safety, where M.D. Jennings appears to hold a slight lead on Jerron McMillian in the battle to start alongside Morgan Burnett. Jennings and McMillian have each spent time with the starters during practice and in games, but if things stay as they are, Jennings figures to start at safety in the base defense, then stay there in sub packages while McMillian comes in as the sixth defensive back in the dime. Hyde’s emergence is another wild card in the sub packages, which should motivate McMillian even further to earn the starting gig.
“We’re trying to give them an equal number of reps and try to give them a fair shot to win that job. It’s no surprise that they’re still neck-and-neck,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “Mentally, both of them have been solid, continued to grow, understanding what we’re asking them to do. Tackling has been pretty good but we’ll get challenged this Friday night against a good back (in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch). That’ll be the one thing I’ll have my eyes on. We’re going to go against their 1’s for a good bit of the game and we know Lynch is going to be toting it.”
– Jason Wilde